Early Access – Just How Long Is Too Long?
Early access is a concept that invokes a wide range of response from the gaming community. Some love it, some hate it, and some are impartial. Mostly this comes from a player’s experiences with games in this stage of development. While browsing titles to purchase as gifts for friends and family this season, a question struck me. How long is too long for a game to be in early access?
What’s the time-frame for early access exactly
Many digital marketplaces such as Steam and Game Jolt have such titles in their stores. In theory, releasing a title for early access allows the developers to get money to continue developing their game. Sadly, many also use it to get quick amount of cash from unsuspecting players.
This practice has led some players to have negative opinions about early access games. Some even think that early access and pre-orders are the same thing, as some big release title include a version of early access as part of the pre-order. This is more of giving players early access to a finished product rather than one still in development. Unfortunately, this misconception isn’t going away any time soon.
Part of early access, as stated, is to use the money to help fund the game’s completion. People who participate in this should do so with the understanding that updates are forthcoming. News of this is usually delivered through developer blogs, new features and game build updates. These are further steps to reach the full completion and release of the title.
Sadly, there aren’t many rules for which a game in early access should receive these updates. This is especially true for indie developers trying to build a game while working another full-time job to support themselves.
While this freedom of creation could be a boon for developers and their creation methods, for gamers, it is a deterrence. Early access titles that suffer from rare or infrequent updates can frustrate players, especially if other titles are getting more attention in this area.
In truth, it might be unfair to hold different developers to the same standard for scheduling updates. Some work at different speeds. In the case of indie developers, some may be working only part time or as a hobby. Some may even be dealing with other concerns outside the game that require their attention. Ultimately, there are a lot of factors to consider, most of which we don’t know looking in from the outside.
At the same time, you can’t rush the development process. Building a game takes time, especially if your team is small. Many indie games are built by a single individual. For them, updating every week or so can be a bit unreasonable.
Still, there needs to be a suitable balance. Players should receive notifications of delays and what is happening, and they should still receive updates every so often. For a game in early access to go years without one is a huge problem. In these cases, the games may have been abandoned or facing something the team didn’t prepare for.
How Long is Too Long?
Fact is that there is no set time frame for how long a game should or shouldn’t be in early access. There are way too many variables that can’t be accounted for. Some games take longer to develop then others. Some developers work faster then others. Sometimes a new idea will take shape and the developer will want to add it into the game. If the developer is actively working on the game, then the game will be ready when it’s ready and not before.
There is no way to rush a game’s development. Large studios may assign deadlines and release dates, but even they are forced to adjust with delays. Still, it is easier for them to meet deadlines with the larger pool of resources they have. In truth, a game is finished when it is finished. It’s better to wait for a good finished product than rush something that doesn’t work.
Developers should have a release time frame when putting a game in early access, and it should still be reasonable. For me, releasing a game this way more than a year from its release schedule might be too long. Even so, if the developer is frequently updating players with news, content and bug fixes, be patient. There is no deadline for how long a game can exist in early access. Developers should finish at their own pace.
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